The Justice Ministry is trying to improve the conditions of female prisoners, as women’s jails are facing difficulties such as overcrowding and a large number of inmates with mental health problems.
According to the ministry’s Correction Bureau, the number of women who entered prisons totaled 2,112 in 2013, down 113 from the previous year. But the number is about double that of 20 years ago, while the number of men entering prisons has been showing a constant decline after dropping below the 30,000 mark in 2007, totaling 20,643 in 2013.
The average occupation rate at the nation’s 77 penal institutions was 77.5 percent as of the end of last year, but the four prisons with over 100 percent occupancy were all-female prisons. The ministry plans to refurbish prisons in Saijo, Ehime Prefecture, and Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, to take in women.
“We have many difficulties treating female prisoners, as there are pregnant women and those who experienced eating disorders or sexual abuse,” said a bureau official. The number of women prisoners who were diagnosed with mental problems between 2008 and 2012 was nearly double that of male prisoners, the data said.
This year, prisons in Tochigi, Wakayama and Saga prefectures began a model project to employ medical nurses, public health nurses and midwives part time to take care of women prisoners’ mental health. The ministry plans to start the project also in Gifu, Hyogo, and Yamaguchi prefectures and Hokkaido next year.
The ministry says the project is also aimed at supporting and educating female prison officers, nearly half of whom are in their 20s.